…remind me of a few things.
There are a lot of people who can’t understand why Israel can’t just achieve a compromise settlement with the Palestinian leadership, in Gaza and elsewhere. In response to this kind of thinking, here’s a comment by the writer and former Army intelligence officer Ralph Peters, written circa 2006:
One of the most consistently disheartening experiences an adult can have today is to listen to the endless attempts by our intellectuals and intelligence professionals to explain religious terrorism in clinical terms, assigning rational motives to men who have moved irrevocably beyond reason. We suffer under layers of intellectual asymmetries that hinder us from an intuititive recognition of our enemies.
And in 1940, the French politician Paul Reynaud, who became Prime Minister of France just two months before the German invasion, incisively explained what was at stake at that point in time, and why it was so much greater than what had been at stake in 1914:
People think Hitler is like Kaiser Wilhelm. The old gentleman only wanted to take Alsace-Lorraine from us. But Hitler is Genghis Khan.(approximate quote)
Today’s radical Islamists, including leaders of Hamas, often assert: “We love death like you love life.” This expression is very close to that of the Spanish Fascists of the 1930s: “Long live death!” The Fascist motto was taken from that of the Spanish Foreign legion….it is pretty strange even as the motto of an elite military force, and, when adopted as the motto of a society-wide movement, is a pretty good indicator of people who have moved “irrevocably beyond reason,” as Peters puts it.
The excuse-making for Palestinian terrorism, and romanticization of same, continues. It is especially strong today in Europe, but also exists on a considerable scale in the U.S., and indeed, even some Jews and Jewish organizations seem to be bending over backwards to find some moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas. I believe the psychological mechanisms behind these attitudes are significantly explained in a 1940 essay by C S Lewis on the “Dangers of National Repentance.” When Lewis wrote (March 1940), there was evidently a movement among Christian youth to “repent” England’s sins (which evidently were thought to include the treaty of Versailles) and to “forgive” England’s enemies.
“Young Christians especially..are turning to it in large numbers,” Lewis wrote. “They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England…Most of these young men were children…when England made many of those decisions to which the present disorders could plausibly be traced. Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?”
“If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happen) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society…The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor; for a foreign secretary or a cabinet minister is certainly a neighbor…A group of such young penitents will say, “Let us repent our national sins”; what they mean is, “Let us attribute to our neighbor (even our Christian neighbor) in the cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.” (Emphasis added.)
Lewis points out that when a man who was raised to be patriotic tries to repent the sins of England, he is attempting something that will be difficult for him. “But an educated man who is now in his twenties usually has no such sentiment to mortify. In art, in literature, in politics, he has been, ever since he can remember, one of an angry minority; he has drunk in almost with his mother’s milk a distrust of English statesmen and a contempt for the manners, pleasures, and enthusiasms of his less-educated fellow countrymen.”
It’s hard to believe that this was written more than 60 years ago–it’s such a bulls-eye description of a broad swath of our current “progressives.” (The only difference being that many of them today are a lot older than “in their twenties.”)
But now Lewis comes to the real meat of his argument. “All Christians know that they must forgive their enemies. But “my enemy” primarily means the man whom I am really tempted to hate…If you listen to young Christian intellectuals talking, you will soon find out who their real enemy is. He seems to have two names–Colonel Blimp and “the businessman.” I suspect that the latter usually means the speaker’s father, but that is speculation. What is certain is that in asking such people to forgive the Germans and Russians, and to open their eyes to the sins of England, you are asking them, not to mortify, but to indulge, their ruling passion.” (emphasis added.)
And here is the two-by-four, right between the eyes. “The communal sins of which they should be told to repent are those of their own age and class–its contempt for the uneducated, its readiness to suspect evil, its self-righteous provocations of public obloquy, its breaches of the Fifth Commandment.”
Exactly. Many “progressives”–and not just the religious ones–have uncritically and without reflection adopted the ideas and values of “their own age and class”–and, while doing so, they have congratulated themselves on their courage and independence of thought. Thus, they can enjoy a great feeling of righteousness without running the risk of condemnation by those whose opinions really matter to them. Who cares if Republicans and conservatives would disapprove of your statements (even when there is a Republican President in office), when there are so many nods of agreement in the faculty lounge or among the other associates at the law firm? Those are the people you see every day, after all, and the ones who really matter for your career…
Read the whole essay. You can find it, together many other insightful pieces, in the collection of Lewis essays titled The Grand Miracle. It is also included in the collection of Lewis essays here.